This year’s TM Forum Live! invoked the theme of digital business transformation and a digital ecosystem for telecommunications. As my colleague, Steve Hateley, wrote recently, leading voices in the industry took time at the event to share their views on the key opportunities and challenges available to operators who embrace creative thinking in an era of digital disruption.
Without a doubt, two of the biggest opportunities of this ongoing and dramatic transformation involve the Internet of Things (IoT) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV). Several speakers, dedicated streams, catalyst projects, key notes and exhibitions offered proof points to demonstrate that not only is this transformation on its way – in many cases, it’s already happening around us. Here are three major NFV and IoT takeaways from the show.
An Impending Surge in NFV Deployments
Comptel has discussed at great length about the transformative impact of NFV deployments on telecommunications. As we wrote in our book, Operation Nexterday, operators who don’t adopt NFV to speed their service delivery and achieve greater agility and scalability could soon see their competitors pass them by.
It would appear many more are starting to realize this, and thus, prioritise NFV deployments in the immediate future. According to one survey that was conducted by Heavy Reading and presented at TM Forum Live!, 23 percent of operators expect to implement NFV commercially within their networks within the next year, while 44 percent expect to do so within the next two years.
In a presentation, Appledore Research Group estimated that as many as 250 ongoing NFV trials are occurring around the world, which includes multiple proofs of concept within a single operator’s network and around 25 early “live” NFV deployments. These deployments are already revealing benefits: Virtual E-CPE (customer premises equipment) rollouts, for example, lead to ten-fold improvements in OPEX savings, while Virtual RAN (radio access networks) rollouts offer a smaller footprint and reduced energy consumption. The Heavy Reading study, which surveyed mobile operators specifically, highlighted many benefits to NFV, with respondents saying it helped achieve scalability in their IMS core and offered value in the policy and charging control function and their evolved packet core.
The IoT Inflection Point
Similarly, there was much discussion around the IoT “inflection point” – as in, the point at which IoT implementations and projects begin to trend upward.
For example, Volvo CIO Klas Bendrik discussed how the car group is addressing consumers’ desire to stay connected at all times by developing interfaces that allow drivers to identify safety hazards, time-saving routes and fuel-saving driving behaviours. The company intends to test 100 self-driving automobiles on Swedish public roads in 2017, which will be the first opportunity members of the public will have to ride along in an autonomous car in normal traffic.
Elsewhere, BT Group Director of Research and Technology Chris Bilton discussed an IoT project in Milton Keynes, England, in which BT Group was able to support the development of a citywide parking optimisation initiative that could be the first step of a full “smart city” project. The global market for Smart Cities is expected to be valued at $400 billion by 2020. The Milton Keynes project will be underpinned by a “Smart Data Hub” that will collect anonymous city data about factors such as energy, water and transportation, to let the partners and developers to address city challenges and innovate on new developments and solutions.
Urban planning, energy management, health care – these are all areas in which IoT is already making a difference, and naturally, operators are getting involved. As we discussed in Operation Nexterday, Telefónica uses machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity to enable IoT services in the Tesla Model S in Europe, and separately manages a smart energy meter project that comprises 53 million devices across Great Britain. The company also relies on sensors to offer fleet management solutions to ensure trucks stay on course, meet delivery objectives and manage fuel efficiently. Tomorrow’s fleets of trucks could, then, look quite futuristic, covered in sensors that support various measurements and actions. These systems rely on M2M technology that is already within operators’ grasp and ready to be leveraged.
Partnerships Key to Accelerating IoT Innovation
The IoT opportunity is huge. Cisco estimates the industry could be valued at $19 trillion by 2024. If IoT disruption is already upon us, how do we accelerate its growth?
One key will be the establishment of new partnerships to unlock an open playing field for faster innovation. Mari-Noëlle Jégo-Laveissière, executive vice president of innovation, marketing and technologies at Orange, explained in TMForum Live! the need for telcos to build a partner ecosystem that extends beyond the usual suspects. Today telcos, she explained, are partnering with companies who they do not normally talk to and who are not like them. Examples include automobile manufacturers, pharmaceutical providers and IoT developers. On top of that, open APIs and platforms will allow developers to innovate faster, bringing new IoT solutions to market at a rapid pace.
Comptel has often advocated for the benefit of non-intuitive telco partnerships, specifically agreements between mobile operators and over-the-top (OTT) content providers to deliver new content-driven mobile data packages. Similarly, such out-of-the-box thinking could enable savvy operators to identify new service opportunities in IoT.
Want to learn more about the ongoing telco digital transformation? Contact Comptel Marketing (email@example.com) to find out when our Beyond the Event Horizon roadshow is coming to your city.
And join us in November for Nexterday North, our can’t-miss antiseminar where we will take a non-traditional, bold look by leveraging the concept of Thinking Ahead (looking at other industries to examine our collective blindspot), Thinking Again (re-examining industry learnings to challenge the status quo) and Thinking Beyond (learning from emerging startups who are disrupting the digital world).
For the past eight years, the TM Forum Excellence Awards have recognised operational and business excellence through the use of the Forum’s best practices and standards by member companies across the telecommunications industry. We’d like to extend our congratulations to Middle Eastern operator Mobily, who was named a finalist in the Operational Excellence category of this year’s programme.
Mobily’s story is a compelling one. Since launching in 2005, the communications service provider (CSP) has enjoyed rapid growth. But disparate applications began to present challenges. These included a disconnect between architecture and design principals, multiple applications covering the same business process for different segments, and multiple links between various applications, resulting in unclear boundaries of business processes.
To remedy these issues, Mobily turned to Comptel. Our objectives were clear: the CSP required a leaner organisation and optimised operations. It wanted to save future costs of building new capabilities on top of in-house applications, while making reductions in terms of support, ensuring shorter time-to-market for new offers and products, and improving the customer experience.
By leveraging our portfolio of OSS/BSS solutions, Mobily’s achievements have been astounding! For example, new product launches that previously took nearly two days can now be accomplished in approximately 30 minutes. And, fulfillment orders that used to take up to 15 minutes are now processed in 10 seconds.
We are very pleased with the CSP’s operational transformation – and it’s even better to see the hard work that went into this project recognised. Congratulations again to Mobily as well as the other CSP finalists in this year’s TM Forum Excellence Awards. We are looking forward to the ceremony at TM Forum Live!, taking place 2-5 June in Nice, France!
Yesterday, we announced Comptel’s financials for the second quarter and first half of 2013. To review the April – June period, our operating profit increased significantly compared to the previous year; we secured six significant orders (each valued over EUR 500,000) during this timeframe. We shared the news of communications service providers (CSPs), including Turkey’s Avea, Zain Kuwait and an African operator in conjunction with Tech Mahindra, leveraging our portfolio to get smarter about their operations, improve the customer experience and realise their business performance objectives.
Comptel also announced two new industry partnerships in the run up to our participation at TM Forum’s Management World conference in Nice in May. And as noted in our results announcement, our operating expenses decreased over the first half of the year, while we’ve realised efficiency improvements from the measures put in place in 2012.
Improving profitability continues to be our key goal throughout the rest of the year. We are further investing in our sales efforts in Latin America, the Middle East and new markets in Asia, and actively seek growth in these regions to compensate for the challenging market situation in Europe. We are also focusing on developing our fulfillment product line and our advanced analytics solutions over the coming months.
Comptel has especially received excellent feedback from the market about our strategic direction with regard to analytics – this was further reinforced with a Pipeline Innovation Awards win for Comptel Social Links. Earlier in the quarter, we re-organised this business unit to further open up opportunities in this area and further add value to our CSP customers, and now, we estimate that analytics deals will close in the second half of the year.
At Comptel, we’ve prided ourselves on being an Operations Support System Independent Software Vendor (OSS ISV) that can span across different standards and interfaces. For us, that flexibility is crucial to building and providing a dynamic system that we know will fit all of our customers’ needs. That said, I won’t hide the fact that to make sure our software runs just as well on one telecom network equipment manufacturers (NEM) technology than another’s requires significant effort from our team.
That’s why we were interested to see that Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN), three of the world’s largest telecom NEMs, have decided to launch an OSS interoperability initiative (OSSii). In short, the businesses agreed to sign bilateral, cross-licensing agreements that will ostensibly help foster the development of a standardised interface from their equipment.
We’re curious about where this initiative will lead. TM Forum has been working on standardised interfaces for fifteen years, and we can’t help but wonder if this could be the start of a rival organisation. Huawei’s OSS & wireless networks president Jiang Wangcheng said that the OSSii will “provide operators in all markets the ability to fully capitalise on the best OSS solutions available”, reducing operating costs and time-to-market, but most of the top ISV OSS solutions already have very sophisticated interface development kits that allow for support, time-to-market flexibility and interoperability.
Could this OSSii instead be meant to help these big NEMs capture a larger slice of the OSS pie for their own services and SI organisations? Nevertheless by simplifying interface challenges, the market could take on a new dynamic.
Innovating on Top of an Interface
Most OSS ISVs like Comptel have already accomplished what Ericsson, Huawei and NSN are trying to do. We’ve had to develop solutions that communicate across different platforms and systems out of sheer necessity. Comptel has solved the interoperability issues of telecoms vendors with products that work across the board. The real challenge now is integrating existing and new networks to deliver convergent services in a way that maximises reusability and capacity.
The OSSii is a move in the right direction for these three NEMs, who have been guarding their licenses and interfaces very closely up until now. We hope that, once they have developed a standardised interface, they will join OSS ISVs to help revolutionise the space of concept-to-cash, Service Defined Network (SDN) and other upcoming changes in the telecom industry. This is where we think the future is—beyond operability and resource management, into the realm of profitable service growth.
A good month ago I changed my position from heading Marketing and Communications to leading the newly established Analytics Business Unit in Comptel. Since then, I have had six customer meetings in the Middle East Africa and Asia Pacific regions in addition to the kick-off workshop with the new team and one week of holiday. To sum up, I could state that my past six weeks have not been boring.
Ulla Koivukoski and her new Analytics Business Unit at kick-off
Some of my friends and my dear daughter have asked about the constant source of energy to go for something unknown or new. Advanced analytics is still taking its baby steps in the telecommunications industry. One friend was teasing that wouldn’t it be nicer just to focus on gardening and fishing instead of running constantly into new challenges. The answer to the latter question is naturally yes, but when one has the passion for something else, why not to go for it as long as the inspiration and motivation is there? And the former question? I simply love my job and my colleagues from whom I learn everyday something, if nothing more, about myself.
What keeps me going then?
Think back to one of those moments when you succeeded in making somebody really happy and were appreciated for it? How did you feel? I’m sure you felt good. It’s the same with my job. Those of you who have been in the technology business know that it’s not always bed of roses when delivering complex solutions. However, when you have delivered the solution and see the satisfied smile on the customer’s face, you can feel good as well. You might not be as emotional in this sense as I am, but it’s maybe worth reminding that customer satisfaction and customer profitability have a strong correlation.
During the trips to the regions, it was my great pleasure to meet one of our customers whose marketing team was very happy with the results which we had delivered together with them. I also met some communications service providers (CSP) who don’t yet have our analytics, but who got nearly as excited as I about the business opportunities we could bring to them. To be fair, I must admit that I also visited a customer site, where we are still in the building phase and are a bit learning the environment and way of working. However, I was really delighted to experience the spirit of collaboration “to build the success for both parties”, as the customer stated.
How do I know whether we are adding value?
The hot topic of the entire ICT world is Big Data. There is a lot of hype around it and some scepticism, whether the CSPs can ever really monetise it. In telecommunications, the tendency has been to invest in large systems and then start building something valuable on top of it. The market is changing faster than it used to, and maybe there is a need for more dynamic and ready thought-out solutions to address specific business issues? This is the way how we think we can help derive value from Big Data. We have been working on specific business cases that are based on some of the real results from our projects. Naturally we have applied them in fashion that protects our customer’s anonymity but are still very enthusiastic about the opportunity, for example, to help CSPs prevent churn to both stop wasting their marketing OPEX and get more revenue per customer. One exciting opportunity is related to new technology launches such as LTE, but there are many more.
This week has been another inspirational week for me
The first weeks with the Analytics Business Unit have been hectic and I don’t expect anything less from the future, but there is so much positive momentum and customer interaction that it keeps me and the team going.
Yesterday, I was able to listen to some of the customer experience management (CEM) sessions held here at Management World Americas. Of course, customers were the core element of these presentations, but what became abundantly clear was that more than ever, customers are being thought of as assets to service providers’ business. When it comes to CEM, it’s no longer just about managing the experience – true CEM is going beyond that and ensuring each interaction with the customer is positive and consistent, which in turn will build a stronger connection with the service provider.
For instance, I listened to Joe Ewan from Innocent, a UK-based consumer food and drink company that specialises in natural smoothies and juices. This company has the number one smoothies in Europe and a giant fan-base because, as Joe put it, they invest the time and effort for a two way relationship with customers. One piece of advice he gave to telcos is that it’s easy to talk, and it’s harder to listen – but if you listen, you can learn. For example, every month Innocent generates a report that summarises feedback from the various customer channels like email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. This is a truly honest synopsis of both the positive and negative, and has been used to drive real change in the business. In addition to helping improve products and processes, this approach keeps customers satisfied because they like knowing that their experience matters.
I saw this approach exemplified in a case study session with Equinix, a premium carrier data center provider offering global interconnection opportunities. For Equinix, a seamless global experience is essential with over 60% revenue coming from customers across multiple regions worldwide. To achieve this, it mapped the customer lifecycle and looked at each interaction, keeping in mind that every touch-point is important. What the company developed was a 360 customer view for quick and effective communications. For instance, they learned that some customers were unhappy because they were receiving too many messages from the carrier. The answer was simple – cut down on these communications.
Now, Equinix provides a seamless experience to their customers and was able to drive positive change just by listening. It’s refreshing to learn of examples like these as we continue to put the customer first, and I’m eager to hear more as the show progresses. Have you heard any interesting customer-centric stories recently?
I’m here at Management World Americas 2012 in Orlando, Florida, where the air is filled with excitement. This year, the theme is “everything that can be digital, will be” – which is reinforced by the rapid growth of our digital economy, expected to reach $20.4 trillion by 2013. Kicking things off this morning was TM Forum’s President and CEO, Martin Creaner, who addressed how to manage complex services as this growth continues, and discussed the industry’s transformation.
To illustrate his point, Martin drew a parallel to frogs – if you put a frog in cool water and then slowly increase the heat, the frog will boil alive before he realises that his life is in danger, even though he’s aware of the gradual temperature change. This is an analogy to the problems our industry faces. We realise change is happening all around us, in the types of phones we use, with increases in data usage, how we use that data, and beyond. But understanding these changes and actually doing something about them are two entirely different things.
That’s where the challenge of innovation comes into play. When it comes to innovation, there are two categories – the first is sustaining innovation, which is about making things better and improving on products and services that already exist in the market. The second, and more difficult type of innovation, is disruptive. This is focused on creating a new market, with new technologies and services.
Currently, market leaders tend to be strong with sustaining innovation and poor at disruptive innovation. Martin noted that, while always important to cater to customers, the downside of sustaining innovation is that it can hold you captive by them. To avoid being the boiling frog, organizations really need to both sustain and disrupt with their innovations. Martin explained that breaking the cycle comes down to putting space between your innovative efforts and the demand of existing customers. In doing so, you can not only innovate for the here and now, but also take steps to change for the future.
This is something we pride ourselves on at Comptel, especially with our Contextual Intelligence for Telecommunications (CIQ4T) concept – a way we’re innovating for service providers. It allows them to understand their customers with predictive analytics, and interact with them intelligently for relevant offers and, ultimately, for a better customer experience.
We’re excited to see what the rest of the show offers, and if you’re at Management World, stop by our booth (#7) in the expo hall!
Did you have a chance to vote in last month’s poll on the biggest business priorities for communications service providers over the next 12 months? Well, the results are now in, with a three-way tie between reducing customer churn, reducing time-to-revenue and finding new ways of increasing profitability. If you missed it, Comptel’s CEO, Juhani Hintikka, recently outlined two strong approaches for facilitating these types of business performance improvements.
Henk Ensing, technical consultant for TNO Information & Communication Technology, a Dutch institute for applied science that specialises in helping companies innovate, covered the potential for dynamic billing and why communications service providers (CSPs) need to inject some new thinking into their charging concepts and business processes. He highlighted that the key elements to dynamicity were analysing transaction-based usage, applying intelligent business rules and considering the contextual status of individual customers. Coincidentally, these were the main attributes for Comptel’s own Contextual Intelligence for Telco (CIQ4T) perspective.
Henk went on to state that dynamic billing brings the element of customer trust to a new level and illustrated this with an analogy comparing CSPs to fresh produce market merchants. Many people have a regular routine of going to the market on the weekend, generally stopping by their favorite vendors for particular foods. The vendors, in turn, are familiarised with their customers’ preferences and can tailor the products they sell accordingly or make recommendations on complimentary additional products based on their extensive experience with the produce—further strengthening their interactions. The vendors, however, don’t always have fixed prices on their produce, which may vary depending on factors like the season and supply. Yet, what keeps the customers coming back? It’s the relationships the vendors are building and nurturing.
Similarly, dynamic billing is based on strong customer relationships where each transaction is a unique opportunity to create a positive end-user experience. Taking into account the context of and appropriately targeting each individual customer interaction is key though. For example, CSPs should consider where the customer is in his or her lifecycle and what products will fit his or her specific needs and wants, at an appropriate time that adds true value.
Policies that govern charging and the network have an important role to play in understanding and implementing this dynamic ability. According to Henk, the beauty of dynamicity is that these policies can be changed in real time based on customers’ evolving requirements. Say, if someone gets paid every two weeks, he or she can opt to make a payment during that time and customise it depending on his or her personal preferences.
Henk’s thoughts on dynamic billing and charging concepts fit in nicely with the discussions at Management World 2012 and reflected Comptel’s own thinking on how CSP innovation needs to evolve. Analysing customer behaviour is just one step of the process, but intelligently determining their contexts to make interactions more relevant and personalised will significantly result in a high quality of experience and improve CSPs’ bottom lines. Ultimately, it’s about strengthening loyalty through a focus on relationship enhancement.
Hello from Ireland, or as they say in Gaelic, Dia dhuit! Comptel is having a fantastic start to this year’s Management World 2012 – where the sun is shining and the Guinness is never in short supply. This year’s theme is “Rethinking Communications – Enabling Connected Life”, and the key undertones so far seem to be innovation, the customer experience and revenue monetisation.
The keynote speakers on day one of the conference touched on some interesting points to this end. In particular, TM Forum chairman Keith Willets began with the humbling statistic that there are now six billion people connected on the planet, who are cumulatively driving the speed-up of change – a “digital tornado,” he called it.
As this digital revolution occurs, so too comes fundamental changes to mobile architecture, and the big question is – can communications service providers (CSPs) adapt quickly enough and deliver the innovation levels that will be required to survive and prosper? Keith also talked about CSPs needing to continue to break down product silos with IP services and find ways to work with over-the-top (OTT) providers, as well as described this new digital economy as SAASification – with new exciting opportunities emerging for simplified service offerings in various verticals including healthcare, energy and M2M.
So how do you rise to the top of the digital world? Keith assured the audience – do what you do best, and forget the rest. Innovation will be huge, so instead of punishing failure, encourage risk-taking. Look to collaborate and partner with other telecoms software and CSPs to enable and maintain innovation.
And, analytics’ use for personalising products and tailoring services for customers will play a big part at the end. Ultimately, success will come from customer centricity and, in particular, real-time, individualised engagement – after all, Keith asserted, it’s now the customer that holds all of the power!
We’re looking forward to the rest of Management World 2012, and if you’re interested in speaking with us, then swing by the Comptel booth, #64!